Impact Hub: Antigua’s New Space for Synergy
text and photos by Linda Conard.
Many people dream of working from a home office in beautiful La Antigua Guatemala, but the reality isn’t always so dream-like. Telecommuters often deal with spotty Internet coverage, distractions, isolation and a “home” that starts to feel like “work.” Even working from local restaurants and cafés has its drawbacks. Michelle Berkowitz Sultan, founder of Social & Environmental Impact Consulting, found herself café-hopping between three or four places daily. “Every few hours I needed to change location because I didn’t want to be rude to the establishment,” she said, and buying something at each spot got expensive.
Worse, working alone precludes the synergy of daily office conversations – those “aha!” moments when you run into a colleague has exactly the idea you need, or vice versa. “A workspace that is collaborative, where you can share ideas with other people, bounce ideas off each other, and have the energy of a work environment—that’s really attractive to me,” said Chris Barry, program director for the U.S.-based Central America Health Initiative.
Creating opportunities for synergy and that “energy of a work environment” are two primary reasons that Richard Ambrose and Mark Jacobson, co-founders of the impact investment group Pomona Impact, created the new co-working space, Impact Hub Antigua (candidate). Co-working spaces allow telecommuters to save money by sharing office space, services and equipment. Impact Hub, started in London in 2005, takes it a big step further by creating co-working communities made up of professionals who promote sustainable impact. These may be social entrepreneurs and nongovernment organizations, as well as professionals in supportive roles like attorneys, accountants, graphic designers, copy editors and others. Internationally, Impact Hub now has more than 7,000 members in 54 Hub environments on six continents. Twenty additional locations, including Impact Hub Antigua, are candidates completing the approval process.
Antigua’s Impact Hub is in Casa de los Milagros, a Spanish colonial building on 1a avenida norte, across from La Fabrica gym. Everything in the Hub is designed to inspire networking and collaboration, while allowing for focused, independent work. Shared office spaces, large enough to hold up to 20 people per room, open onto a central courtyard surrounded by bamboo chair swings.
Reliable 10MB Wi-Fi (the fastest speed currently available in Guatemala) is accessible from anywhere in the Hub, and members have free use of a large copier, printers, scanners and other office equipment. Rustic desks line the shared workspaces, and members can choose from office swivel chairs, beanbag seats and yoga balls.
In addition to individual memberships, a small office of two to seven people might opt to rent a “Hublet,” where the team can work together in a more private, self-contained space. Members have free use of conference rooms, which nonmembers can also rent for meetings. The lunchroom and kitchen feature a fridge and microwave, plus unlimited free coffee, while an on-site café and juice bar will offer specialty coffees, smoothies and sandwiches.
After a week working in the Hub, Barry, one of the charter members, said, “The lighting is great, there’s fresh air, it’s a quiet space, the Internet is fast and reliable, there are plugs everywhere, there’s coffee, there’s a gym right across the street … and the people running it are really are trying to create the right environment for people to interact.”
Hub events—ranging from yoga workshops and Sexy Salad Days to presentations on financial management and measuring social impact—keep members informed and motivated. An upstairs terrace, with postcard-worthy views of Antigua’s three volcanos, will be the site of Friday “wine-downs” and other social events, making it easy to connect. After her first week, Sultan, another charter Hub member, said, “I’ve already met some extremely bright and motivated people here.”
Although the Hub is already attracting international telecommuters, the Hub is also developing targeted alliances with local universities and institutions, and creating a scholarship program to cover membership costs for promising young Antigua-area entrepreneurs. Ambrose expects the cross-pollination of international and local entrepreneurs, NGOs, start-ups and support professionals in Antigua will be especially valuable. “There’s a real opportunity to stimulate much greater collaboration in the community … where all of these circles meet,” he says. “We’d love to house that discussion. That’s really part of the goal.”
Both Ambrose and Jacobson hope that Impact Hub Antigua will “cultivate a new wave of entrepreneurship here in Guatemala.” Ambrose adds, “It’s a grassroots approach that has had a lot of success around the world, and we know can be successful here.”
Impact Hub Antigua (candidate) is offering a 50% discount for the first six months for members who sign up by the grand opening on Oct. 13. For more information, see www.ImpactHubAntigua.com, or contact Flavia Ladino at email@example.com or (502) 3339-9483. 1a av. norte #13, La Antigua